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Posted on Jun 29, 2011 in Top Shots
Memo to America
by Doug Olander
rockwell blog

The following appeared as an editorial in the August 2011 issue of Sport Fishing - Ed.

Independence Day is just around the corner as I write this. I will be celebrating the Fourth of July holiday by participating in one of the most quintessentially American activities: fishing. What’s more, my family will be joining me. On top of that, we’ll be pursuing striped bass (in fact a game fish found only in American waters) in sight of the Statue of Liberty.

As I look forward to this outing, it occurs to me that across and around America, millions of others will be spending at least part of their long weekend on the water with their family and friends. The setting might differ, as will the anglers — their ages, backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and political and religious beliefs — but sport fishing remains the common denominator.

When I see a guy reading a fishing magazine or carrying a rod tube in an airport, I see a kindred spirit. However different we might be in many respects, I know that we share a love for a sport.

I’m hardly the only one who has given thought (and voice) to the importance of recreational fishing for this country. Consider these words:

Sport fishing “is about more than dollars and cents. For millions of people, fishing is about spending quality time with family and friends. Fishing helps people connect with each other, with the natural world, and with their children and grandchildren.

“I understand this connection, and I believe that recreational fishing is and should remain one of the nation’s greatest pastimes.”

The source? No less than Dr. Jane Lubchenco, who as NOAA administrator is the highest fisheries official in the land.

I say “amen” to that.

There are voices in the recreational-fishing community who would also lament hypocrisy in Lubchenco’s statement. I don’t think that’s the case in any intentional sense, but I agree that this administration has yet to redirect the traditionally commercial-fishing-oriented NOAA Fisheries agency to adequately look out for the interests of its vast recreational-fishing public.

But my real intent just now is not to comment on fisheries management; it’s to offer a reminder that nothing is more American than sport fishing.

Two or three decades ago, any need for such a reminder might have seemed superfluous. But no longer. As we fight to retain the opportunity to fish — with some environmental interests pushing to close large areas of our coasts to all fishing and federal law threatening to apply annual catch limits to game fish with no scientific data to justify such arbitrary restrictions on many species, and so on — we might be losing a valuable ally: public support.

I suspect last century, when Norman Rockwell was celebrating scenes of America fishing, we would have witnessed a public outcry over circumstances or campaigns putting this American pastime in peril. In today’s more complicated world, strident rhetoric — even when in defense of our sport — might be further eroding support of and concern by the vast nonfishing public.

Any hope of preventing the closure of public waters, slowing the loss of access to our coasts, making federal fisheries rules more sensitive to recreational fishing and so on, will need the support of that public — and its lawmakers — who don’t fish but are sympathetic to those who do.

It might be time for the recreational-fishing industry to step up a concerted campaign to remind the general public of fishing’s long history and importance as a leisure/social activity. America’s sport-fishing heritage is worth preserving.